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Community and Civility

These were the themes of the Commencement Address given by Secretary of Transportation, Raymond LaHood, at Boston College this morning. And though he recognized these values as a present challenge, he was far from idealizing the past. As a matter of fact he said:

No one doubts that this is an age of acrimony in United States politics. Yet, its worth remembering that partisan animosity is as old as the republic itself. Americans have been fighting about their public affairs since they first sent delegates to the Continental Congress during the 1770s.In 1776, John Adams arrived in Philadelphia, after a 300 mile journey from Braintree on horseback a mode of transportation slightly faster than the B-Line. Just days later, Adams wrote: There are deep jealousies here. Ill-natured observations and incriminations take the place of reason and argument.From there, the jealousies and incriminations only got worse. The 1780s were marked by riots and rebellions in the streets.In 1798, one congressman spit tobacco juice in the face of another. He responded by attacking his assailant with a pair of fire tongs. All on the floor of the House of Representatives. As you might expect, they were both New Englanders.Just a few years later, the sitting Vice President of the United States shot and killed the former treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel. Thats one way to settle a debate over the national debt.

The rest is here.

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At least according to the account presented by Joseph Ellis in Founding Brothers, there may be one more parallel between the Burr/Hamilton duel and our own day. One of the questions surrounding the duel was why Hamilton did not "negotiate" a backing down from the duel (prompted by Hamilton saying untoward things about Burr's wife), as was apparently quite common. Ellis speculates (or perhaps shows, I cannot remember) that Hamilton thought that Burr was a threat to the country because of his involvement with New England secessionists (a movement about which I had not previously known). In our own day, we now have governors and senators seeking to pass nullification laws.I do think that the whole Tea Party movement has given new life to one of the oldest debates in our country; namely, what should be the scope/limits of the federal government?

Sandra Day O'Connor complains that we are becoming awful in our civics and civility due to polarized language and discourse by sound bytes.Amen to that.

Now that many states are legalizing the open carry of weapons, with or without a permit in some cases, we can count on returning to the good old days of shoot first and worry about the collateral damage later.